Food is a very political and social entity as far as India is concerned. Through daily consumption and ritualistic traditions, food assumes spiritual and metaphorical meaning in all walks of life. Inadvertently, food has become a discourse that is capable of building and disrupting social harmony. One such recent disruption was caused by a viral fake message, which was directed at a food production company based in Bangalore, iD Fresh Foods. The viral message claimed that the idli/dosa batter made by the company contains cow bones and calf rennets to make the batter thicker.
The message gained a highly communal hue when it continued to say that the company only hires Muslims and has a halal certificate. From stigmatising against a particular community and in the process, also further alienating daily-wage factory workers through the fake news of HIV contaminated blood mixed in Frooti to adding on to India’s extremist, Islamophobic sentiments by spreading unchecked rumours of cow bones and calf rennets in the said brand’s dosa batter, safe to say, we have progressively come a long way backwards.
The iD Foods was founded in 2005 by an IIM-B alumnus, P C Mustafa with his four cousins. Today, it has manufacturing units in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Chennai, Ernakulam, Coimbatore, Cochin, and abroad as well. Spanning across 45 markets, the iD Food plants located in Hyderabad, Dubai and Mumbai has Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000 which is accorded to only those firms which maintain extremely high standards for all processes of production. Apart from the company, various entities that check the authenticity of news events have stated that the allegations on iD Foods is completely baseless.
The incident ignited virtual wars and allegations against the company. Responding to the highly polarising and communal narrative of the fake WhatsApp forward, the company’s statement clarified that only vegetarian ingredients are used in making their products and called the rumours “misleading, false and baseless”.
“We would like to clearly specify that iD uses only vegetarian ingredients to make its products, iD Idly Dosa Batter is made from rice, urad dal, fenugreek and RO water only, which are 100% natural and vegetarian agri-commodities. There are no animal extracts used in any of our products,” the statement went on to say.
Needless to say, in a political narrative that is largely determined by right-wing, extremist narratives that has sought to otherise the Muslim through its projection of a Hindutva state, the identities communicated through food choices, purchase decisions and consumptions have become highly categorical. In today’s India, our food choices highlight our religious, spiritual, emotional and political perspectives, which are then left for, mostly the Hindu majority population, to judge as morally and ethically right for consumption or not.
The incident is yet another example of the Islamophobia that is steadily on the rise in India. There is a deliberate attempt to portray anything remotely related to Islam as devious and wrong. In such a highly volatile and hostile environment, a company like iD Fresh Foods, founded by four Muslim cousins following the Sharia laws, becomes an easy target. The viciousness of fake news increases when the news is pitted against communities than when it is circulated independently. Beyond religion as itself, one can observe how food is brought into the discourse of religion. Vegetarian food becomes the monopoly of one religion and within that religion, of the upper-caste Savarna minority, while non-vegetarian food is not only ascribed to a religious group but also looked down upon, from the perspective of notions of purity.
The multiple layers the message encompassed and the plethora of identities it enforced was beyond recognition. Taking advantage of those who do not bother to check the authenticity of any news, the propagandists were able to blow the news out of proportion. The unfortunate incident that happened to iD Fresh Foods, brings to fore (again) the importance of checking the authenticity of any news that you receive, especially as Whatsapp forwards. This can be done either by looking through multiple news sources or through websites that are dedicated to investigating the reality behind news events.